EPA Belatedly Posts Industry Chemical Safety Warnings
PEER Suit Prompts EPA to Unearth Over 1,300 Industry Chem Substantial Risk Reports
Washington, D.C. – Last night, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency abruptly reversed course and publicly posted at least some of the more than 1,300 substantial risk reports submitted by chemical manufacturers since 2019. Prior to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) earlier this month, these industry reports had not been publicly available for the past three years.
Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, industry is required to notify EPA within 30 days when they obtain information giving them reason to believe that chemical substances present a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment. In early 2019, EPA stopped posting these industry reports in its public chemical database or uploading them to its internal databases, making it difficult for EPA scientists who are conducting risk assessments of these same chemicals to utilize the information.
EPA had been sharing these industry reports both internally and externally for decades. PEER estimates that approximately 1,300 industry reports have been received by EPA but had been hidden from the public eye. Some of these chemicals are toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a chemical family causing national contamination problems that EPA identified as a priority to control.
“We are glad that EPA has resumed posting industry’s risk warnings and wonder why it has taken so long,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “We hope that EPA will also ensure that its staff scientists are apprised of these new postings and are able to include them in formulating risk assessments.”
EPA spokespeople have blamed the cessation of posting industry warnings on a staff shortage. In addition, the agency admits the entire program suffers from a severe staff shortfall. Yet, in response to another PEER FOIA request, the agency conceded that it has yet to even develop a plan to recruit or retain needed specialists.
Despite decrying its lack of resources, EPA operates an online tool enabling chemical companies to track their products through the approval process – internally called the “pizza tracker.” At the same time, the agency claims to have no records on how much it spends on the pizza tracker.
For months, the Biden EPA’s administration of the new chemical program has been awash in controversy, including EPA scientist charges that their draft risk assessments have been routinely altered to delete or improperly minimize identified hazards.
“These events both raise and reinforce basic questions about the competence and candor of the officials running EPA’s chemical programs,” added Bennett. “While this one glaring problem has been belatedly fixed, EPA has approved hundreds of chemicals for release with inadequate or inaccurate risk assessments, but it still refuses to address the public health threats its past malfeasance has created.”
Besides seeking a copy of the missing submissions, the PEER lawsuit seeks records indicating why this occurred and on who’s order, as well as guidance that has been issued concerning how these reports will be integrated into new chemical assessments.